Separate bikeways are the lead actors in bike-friendly cities, but many supporting actors complete the cast: bikes on transit facilities, good traffic law enforcement, even bike “lifts” on steep hills. Three more worth mentioning are blue lanes, parking cages, and cyclibraries.
1. Blue lanes.
My youngest son often bikes to drama rehearsals. It’s about three miles, mostly on traffic-calmed neighborhood streets and a bike trail—pretty good bikeways, overall. The only parts I worry about are the intersections where he has to cross especially busy streets, like six-lane Highway 99.
Oregonians share my concern about crossing big roads on two wheels: they told the state’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance that unsafe intersection crossings are the biggest barrier to cycling (pdf). On many routes, and particularly for children, busy intersections are the weakest links in Cascadia’s emerging bikeway network.
One cure is Blue Lanes. Pioneered in the cycling meccas of northern Europe, they are bicycle lanes through intersections boldly painted to demarcate which road space is reserved for pedal power. Typically, they’re accompanied by traffic signals specifically for cyclists. The city of Portland has installed ten blue lanes to date.
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2. Parking cages. Once my son arrives at his drama rehearsal, he leaves his bike locked outside for hours, exposing it to the risk of theft or vandalism. A good lock and a secure public bike rack help. (Seattle has about 2,300 public bike racks; that’s more than New York City [pdf; see page 273].)
But bikes locked to racks remain vulnerable. Thieves can cut locks or strip bikes with surprising speed. Better than racks are cages, rented by the hour—an innovative technology detailed in this short video from streetfilms.org. (The image is not a live link.)
3. Cyclibraries. I often find myself somewhere without my bike, needing to take a quick round trip to some nearby location: a business meeting or a local shop. Years ago, Portland sparked a bevy of North American imitators when a nonprofit group there began refurbishing old two-wheelers, painting them bright colors, and leaving them on the streets of the city for anyone to use. Originally attempted in Amsterdam, this program of free-range bicycles eventually foundered; the bikes disappeared.
Such libraries of bikes persist inside certain manufacturing companies, such as Boeing, where company-owned fleets of shared bicycles have long been used for quick, job-site errands.
A commercial form of cyclibraries has emerged in the past two years in Europe, originating in Lyon, France, and launching this year in Paris. Like airport luggage-cart stands that automatically rent carts, then refund a deposit on the carts’ return, a network of sidewalk kiosks—little bike libraries—dispense simple bikes on demand, for the cost of a deposit and a little more than $1 an hour.
Paris has sold a license to an outdoor advertiser to place 21,000 bikes at 1,500 kiosks this year, partially in exchange for advertising privileges on the bikes and kiosks, as described here.
Portland is exploring how it might do something similar. I wonder whether car-sharing companies might get in on the act, too, since they’ve already built the billing and transaction systems: Flexbike? Zipbike?
What does bike-friendly look like? What is Bicycle Respect? It’s blue lanes with bike signals at all major intersections. It’s an abundance of secure bike parking—perhaps with bike-parking cages installed in place of some metered car-parking slots. It’s hundreds of cyclibraries scattered through the cityscape, each automatically renting out a dozen two-wheelers by the hour, speeding errands and leaving more cars at the curb.
Bicycle friendly means no longer worrying about my son, or his bike, when he rides to drama.
(Thanks to Deric Gruen, who did research for this series.)
Blue Lane photo courtesy of Jayson Antonoff, International Sustainable Solutions
Matt the Engineer
I was in a builing in Bellevue a few weeks ago (10900 NE 4th), and noticed that they offer free bicycle rental to tennants. Just leave your ID, and hop on a bike. Another weak link I think we need to fix is changing areas. I currently have two choices when I bike to work – in the morning I bike to the gym, shower and change, then walk my bike to work; in the evening I change in a public restroom (not a very clean or enjoyable option) or walk my bike back to the gym. I’d love to see bike garages, complete with public showers and changing areas (I’d pay several dollars a day for this service).
How about the new bike lane heading down Pine Street into downtown Seattle (construction ended so they repainted). Just after crossing Boren, and heading past the bus station, it mysteriously grows narrower and narrower, until maybe the painting guy thought, “hey, i’d better stop now since a bike can’t fit in this narrow spot”. Further, the road is downhill at this point, so there’s no need for a lane anyways, let alone a broken one which leads you into a collision path with the busses stopping at their stop!Sorry, this is half off-topic, but after the whole Bike Master Plan planning and what-not, I thought Seattle would brighten up.
Amsterdam has a cool secure bike locker program/company called Locker. 0.50 euros per day for guarded bicycle parking, some indoors, some outside. Some of the Locker locations have bike maintenance facilities as well.http://www.locker.amsterdam.nl/
Matt,I’ve seen a pair of such loaner bikes at Rainier Tower, in downtown Seattle, too.
Chas, I ride Pine St. as well and I was hoping that faulty bike lane was temporary – but I’m afraid it may not be. Having a bike lane on Pine, the primary route to Seattle’s densest neighborhood, Capitol Hill, is great – but the fact that it ends four or five blocks from downtown and fails to connect to any downtown routes is tragic, particularly trying to climb back up the hill – where riders are forced onto busy Pike where Pine is one way.Where the infrastructure is lacking the riders are not. I found myself commuting with 10 other cyclists down Pine today and spotted at least 25 riders in my 1.5 mile commute. It felt like Critical Mass! Indeed it was. It brought to life what it must feel like in Copenhagen, where they’re pondering whether bike tracks should fit around car lanes or car lanes should fit around bike lanes.
Deric,”whether bike tracks should fit around car lanes or car lanes should fit around bike lanes”Well put.
Another bit I notice about Pine is that there isn’t really a need for so many lanes going _into_ downtown. Traffic, at least what I see, in the morning seems more dispersed since not everyone goes to work at the same time in the way that everyone leaves at the same time (especially on Friday). The only good part about Pine and Boren is that they were smart enough to place a bike lane in between the right turn lane and the non-turning lane.
Gordon Price’s latest e-mag has (among other things) some sweet shots of bike/pedestrian bridges built in Melbourne and Brisbane to promote these forms of transportation.
A bicycle storage option similar to bike cages is bike lockers. The UW has about 600 of them available to campus commuters for an annual fee plus key deposit. An even better deal are the Kitsap Transit lockers, located at ferry terminals and Park & Ride lots in Kitsap County: you pay $0 in rent and a $75 deposit fee, which you get back when you no longer need the locker. Bike lockers protect your bike from the weather and also provide room to stash your helmet and other gear. Your bike is hidden from view, thus removing temptation to steal it. I had a bike locker for a year and loved it.
As a cyclist in Portland I haven’t found the blue lanes to be very helpful. Perhaps with special lights they would be. Several of the blue lanes cross freeway entrances. Riding through these areas with motorists turning right to get onto a freeway is life threatening. I’ve found taking alternative routes gives me more peace of mind and body.
I hate to be a naysayer, but wouldn’t a painted lane be heinously treacherous in the rain? I avoid paint at all costs when liquid sunshine falls.
The paint for these things isn’t like the white lines. I don’t know quite what the difference is, but when I’ve biked in cities with painted lanes they’ve never been slippery.
They’re “thermoplastic” in Portland, if the report from 1999 holds true today. City of Portland study report pdf is here, and the materials info is on page six. Slipperyness is definitely a concern, along with cost, durability, visibility, et cetera. The pdf says it’s “Blue Premark 20/20 Flex 125 mil. Highly skid resistant. 60 BPN. Supplied by Flint Trading Inc.” and the Flint site describes the traction available with their VisiGrip feature.
An update on the rapid spread of “cyclibraries” from columnist Neil Pierce:“Paris’ “velib” bike rental program—the name combines “velo” (bicycle) and “liberte (freedom)—opened last July and registered an astounding 2 million trips in its first 40 days. Twenty-thousand bikes are available at 1,450 cycling stations across the city. Insert a credit card to sign up ($1.50 a day to $43 a year) and you can drop your bike off at any other station, the first 30 minutes free. “Paris’ sturdy bikes have three gears, good hand brakes, adjustable seat levels and “sit-up” handlebars. They’re equipped with antitheft and global positioning devices. Cost of the biking operation is offset by revenues from advertising at bus shelters and other “outdoor furniture.” “Almost identical systems are sprouting up across Europe—in Lyons, Rennes, Barcelona, Oslo, Stockholm, Seville, Brussels, Vienna. Many others are soon to come including London and Rome. There’s also reported interest in Moscow and Beijing. “This April the first serious U.S. fast bike-rental system is due to open in Washington, D.C., followed shortly by San Francisco. Considering the idea or in active negotiations are Houston, Tucson, San Antonio, Portland, Cambridge and Boulder. “Among possible U.S. cities is Chicago—Mayor Richard Daley tested a Velib bike in Paris last summer and came back a fan. Add Louisville: the health giant Humana has bikes for its own workers and Mayor Jerry Abramson likes the idea of a citywide system.”
There’s a great write-up on Paris’s bike-sharing program in Sustainable Transport, the publication of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Good stuff!